CHEYENNE – State and local officials are considering whether two roads near the state Capitol should be closed to create a pedestrian mall as part of the ongoing Capitol Square Project.
The idea, which is in the very early stages of consideration, could potentially see 24th Street closed in front of the state Capitol and Capitol Avenue closed between 24th and 22nd streets. The Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group agreed to move forward with discussions with Cheyenne city government officials about the idea and study local reaction to the change.
Mike O’Donnell, special assistant attorney general assigned to the Capitol renovation project, said the idea had been discussed informally for several months with city officials. Given that 24th Street and part of Capitol Avenue were already closed as part of the construction project, it could make sense to just shut it down permanently and create a pedestrian area, he said.
“It’s something of an opportunity that presents itself to us now, and that’s because 24th and Capitol have been closed for several months due to construction,” O’Donnell said.
Exactly how much of each street would be closed, or if others could be added to the closures, would be part of the study.
Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr said she was excited about the idea and what it could mean for the area. It would not only improve access to the Capitol for visitors, she said, but also the Wyoming State Museum and the state Supreme Court Building.
“I fully support the idea of a pedestrian campus around the Capitol. It’s such a beautiful area, and I think it is a capstone, if you will, where at one end (of the street) you have the Depot and at the other end the Capitol,” Orr said. “By possibly closing down some access to vehicles and creating a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere, it is what other large capital cities do, and it’s great planning. (The plan) is really conducive to open space, and I’m absolutely in love with the idea.”
Orr envisioned a final project that could also serve as home to a new governor’s residence in the former location of the St. Mary’s Catholic high school building, east of the Capitol.
A report on potential new locations for the governor’s residence is due in November.
While the oversight group approved studying the issue, there was no set timeline for when a decision needed to be made. Gov. Matt Mead said he wanted to make sure the city had a chance to weigh in completely before any roads were permanently closed.
“From law enforcement to first-responders, the hospital, surrounding business, the city as a whole, I think there needs to be a lot of input on this, including people even becoming familiar with this long-term vision, what it looks like and what it will mean,” Mead said. “I think it’s very important to distinguish this is about how we would go about this if we do this.”
O’Donnell said there are multiple facets to a potential closure, including that the Cheyenne Frontier Days Grand Parade traditionally uses the roads around the Capitol on its route.
“There are a lot of details to work out,” O’Donnell said. “This begins the process; it gets the conversation going to start identifying those details that need to be worked through.”
Orr agreed there were plenty of details to work out. While she didn’t believe the closures would cause issues with traffic in the area, she said it was going to be important to start conversations with the city to make sure residents understood what was being proposed and liked the idea of the pedestrian mall.
Orr also said a major factor will be talking with the Wyoming Department of Transportation, since Warren and Central avenues are state highways, and the plan could impact the two roads.